Taste: River Cafe review

River Cafe is not an ideal place to approach from the tube on a blustery November evening. From Hammersmith station go south across the roundabout, under the A4, round the back of the Apollo and through a couple of estates. From there through a gap in the fence to the river, across a patch of deserted building site and finally along an eerie stretch of waterside path where a couple of dark silhouettes will have you rehearsing that talk-them-down speech we've all prepared for that moment (touch wood) when mugged. Mine begins something like "yes, absolutely here's my wallet - but first may I keep that photo of my daughter, I wish I'd taken more when she was alive... have children, do you?"

Across Richard Rogers' tidy courtyard, into the restaurant and that's easily forgotten. A welcoming party unwraps our coats and we're ushered over to a modern attractive bar where blazered professionals chat 'shop' and martinis promptly arrive.

Chatter flows through from the dining area; a large, attractive, clearly architecturally considered space. A polished and cake-laden service bar runs the length of the room on one side from an open kitchen at the end. Every other square inch of floor space is tessellated with diners, between who wait staff in crisp pinstripe shirts and clean aprons synchronise their darts and nips.

Ours waiter is confident, personable and clearly ofay with the melee of seating. Zipping ahead he leads us across to the far side of the room to a table on the edge of the throng and at the mouth of the kitchen's show-piece, a beautiful wood-fired dome oven.

The ever changing Italian, traditionally coursed menu is all literally mouth watering. Clearly rendered physically choice-less the water suggested a current one-off, Gnuddi (River Cafe's own spinach gnochi), served simply with their currently limited batch of decade-ish old balsamic and olive oil. It hit a light heavenly spot I wasn't familiar with. A taste I will never forget and probably never find again. Scallops, too, were served very simply. Large, perfectly cooked and on a par with my #1 for seafood: the company shed.

For mains, a friar tuck sized veal shin, on the bone with canellini bean and Swiss chard was another first, superbly textured somewhere between great lamb and fantastic steak. Sea bass fillet baked in a bag with porcini, thyme and Vermouth, with spinach was another delivery of balanced taste and perfectly prepared ingredients.

By the end of an Almond Tart with Strawberries and Grappa Pannacotta we were blissfully weak at the knees.

Sure, the logo is appalling and barely better is the projection-clock dominating the room, but these strands of hair aside and River Cafe is in my experience the finest Italian restaurant in the country. We'll be back in spring when the River Cafe spills out onto Rogers' tidy courtyard.

River Cafe
Thames Wharf
Rainville Road
London, W6 9HA (map)
+44 (0)20 7386 4200

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